Half-a-second behind Mercedes need to keep expectations ‘at a realistic level’

Lewis Hamilton aerial shot at the Yas Marina circuit. Abu Dhabi November 2022 Mercedes Credit: Alamy
Lewis Hamilton aerial shot at the Yas Marina circuit. Abu Dhabi November 2022 Mercedes Credit: Alamy

Despite hoping for a steeper development slope after 2022’s troubles, Toto Wolff says Mercedes must remain “realistic” in their expectations for the upcoming season.

Winners of eight consecutive Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes failed to defend the title last season as they dealt with a bouncing W13.

Whether it was the zero-pod concept, running a stiffer floor than most or putting the car too close to the ground, only Mercedes know the truth about what went wrong with their 2022 challenger.

It was a car that technical director Mike Elliott labelled “an onion” with its layers of problems while George Russell said it was a confidence-sapping “diva”.

The Briton clinched the team’s only race win of the season at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, his team-mate Lewis Hamilton recording his first win-less campaign in his 16 seasons on the grid.

Despite late-season improvements, the team finished third in the Constructors’ Championship where they were over 200 points behind Red Bull – behind in the standings and still behind on the track with Hamilton finishing the season’s final qualifying in Abu Dhabi eight-tenths down on Max Verstappen.

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It has Wolff saying they need to be “realistic” about their chances heading into the new 2023 season.

“I think we have understood how we fell back, where the shortcomings are, and where we have gaps in understanding,” he said as per Motorsport.com.

“We’re working hard on putting a car on the ground that has addressed all of that.”

“But,” he concedes, “we will only see when starting testing whether we have unlocked the potential that we believe has always been in the car.

“We have no doubt, when you’re starting behind by half a second, that it’s going to be difficult to catch up to such great organisations like Red Bull, or Ferrari.

“Now, having said that, we are super determined in doing just that. But we need to set our expectations at a realistic level.”

The Mercedes motorsport boss is, however, hopeful his team has more scope to improve than the likes of Red Bull or Ferrari.

“If we perform in the way we hope, then we’d like to be part of the racing at the very front,” he added. “I think that would be a starting point.

“But we don’t take that for granted. It could well be that the gaps are like they were at the end of last season.

“I think there is so much potential still that within our car, within the concept, the way we drive the car, etc, that maybe our development slope can be steeper in the months to come.”

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